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Condition Employees to do Their Own Legwork

When people approach me at work for guidance, more often than not I try to equip them to find the solution on their own because I know the information will crystallize in their minds better. Yes, there are times when I have to get personally involved

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Condition Employees to do Their Own Legwork

By Joel Robitaille

When people approach me at work for guidance, more often than not I try to equip them to find the solution on their own because I know the information will crystallize in their minds better. Yes, there are times when I have to get personally involved, but I’ve always been a fan of initiative and that’s what I want to see.

The way your employees tackle a problem will be decided by a combination of factors, including past job experience, personality, as well as your own conditioning. Whether or not they bring their own thoughts into the conversation will be impacted by your response, positive or negative.

Jodi Glickman of the Harvard Business Review wrote a great article from an employee’s perspective on why it’s better to be smart and wrong than silent. The idea is that it’s better for employees to think through an issue using their own logic and experience so they don’t approach manager empty-handed.

Glickman writes, “When you're not sure what to do or how to proceed, don't start with a blank slate and ask for help. Instead, start with what you do know, state your intended direction (and rationale behind it) and then get the buy-in or feedback of your manager. “

As a manager, do you really want to do the legwork for your workers, or do you want them to show you that they’re capable of critical thinking and resilient enough to risk being wrong? I imagine some managers would prefer their employees approach them rather than waste time or make a mistake. But I’ve always been on the side of empowering others to realize their potential and trust in their own resourcefulness, which is why employees who fail to demonstrate that they tried to tackle the issue on their own before seeking my input will often end up with more questions than answers.

In either circumstance, you have an opportunity to teach your employees the style you prefer. How you reinforce or discourage an employee’s initiative will dictate whether you provide the appropriate support or assume the burden.